“San Diego Gets First Sight of Farmerette”

That was the headline of an article on page 2 of the San Diego Evening Tribune of August 20, 1918.

“Enter the farmerette!” began the article. “She isn’t new, in some sections of California, but her appearance here yesterday was the signal for many questions about the branch of the service to which she belongs.”

“Farmerettes” were the nickname for members of the Woman’s Land Army of America (WLA). The WLA was established in 1917 in the wake of America’s entrance into the First World War one hundred years ago. It was one of a number of public and private efforts to promote food production and conservation during the war

The WLA was established “by a consortium of women’s organizations—including gardening clubs, suffrage societies, women’s colleges, civic groups and the YWCA,” according to a 2009 article written by Elaine Weiss for Smithsonian Magazine.

From 1917 to 1919, the WLA trained and sent more than 20,000 city and town women to rural America.

Here’s an undated photo from the Library of Congress archives of a California WLA member driving a tractor:

The farmerettes referred to in the August 1918 Tribune article had “hiked down from the farmerette camp at Elsinore” on “a four-day furlough from their government work, which consists of planting tomatoes, tending the ground and plants, harvesting the crop….and canning the product for the consumption of the United States soldiers and sailors….”

The visitors clearly made an impression. A few weeks later, on September 16, one of the Tribune’s social columns included this item: “Miss Hulda VanWagenen, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. D. B. VanWagenen, has gone north to join the woman’s land army. Miss VanWagenen left with a group of workers from Los Angeles today for Saticoy, Ventura County, to pick plums.”

Ten days later, another Tribune article noted “A number of local girls and women have joined the woman’s land army.”

“Like Rosie the Riveter a generation later,” wrote Weiss in Smithsonian, “the Land Army farmerette became a wartime icon.”

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, Smithsonian Magazine, and Legacies, magazine of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Poway Then and Now: Two Photos Tell the Story

The photo above is courtesy of the archives of the Poway Historical and Memorial Society. It was taken in 1916 and it shows what was then called the Poway Methodist Episcopal Church. Please note the building’s isolation, surrounded by grassy meadows on all sides. Note also the dirt road running by in the foreground.

Now note the next shot, courtesy of yours truly, taken recently:

That photo shows the same building, known today as the Community Church of Poway. The surrounding meadows are now filled with homes, apartments, and shopping centers. And that dirt road has become the paved and busy Community Road, in the heart of a bustling city.

In 1916 the Poway Valley was an unincorporated rural area populated by a few hundred people. It remained sparsely populated and predominantly rural until 1954, when its residents voted to connect to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which brought a steadier water supply courtesy of the Colorado River.

How much of a difference did that new water supply make? Four years after the Colorado River water started flowing in, Poway’s population had jumped from less than 400 to 2,800. Two years later in 1962, it was up to 4,700. Poway was incorporated as a city in 1970.

The abundant water supply made all the difference. The pictures tell the story.

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10,000 Years of History in One Building

While speaking to a tour group at the Rancho Bernardo Museum last week, I mentioned the San Diego Archaeological Center and got some puzzled expressions. So I mention the center this week as it remains one of the hidden gems of the county’s historical community and deserves to be known to a wider public.

Founded in 1998, the non-profit San Diego Archaeological Center functions as both a museum and an active curation facility. Its stated mission, listed on the center’s website, is “to preserve archaeological collections and promote their educational, scientific and cultural use to benefit a diverse public.”

The 10,000 years of history referred to in the title of today’s post refers to the history of human habitation in San Diego County, from the original Native Americans to the settlers from all continents who came after. As a result of that history, there are upwards of 17,000 archaeological sites in the county, more than in some entire states.

As you can well imagine, this wealth of buried history faces destruction by the demands of development. That’s why regulations such as the California Environmental Quality Act were created to ensure excavation and removal of historically significant artifacts from development sites.

Unfortunately while these regulation provided funding for digging up and removing artifacts, they didn’t fund equally for curation: the preservation and use of the artifacts after excavation.

That’s where SDAC came in. This single building, a converted elementary school in the San Pasqual Valley, is a repository and exhibit space for San Diego County’s heritage.

They started out with 10 boxes of artifacts in 1998. Today, “We have over 1,008 collections representing 2,876 archaeological sites,” said Cindi Stankowski, Center Executive Director in a recent interview. “Altogether they total 5,014 cubic feet. We can take up to 10,000 so we still have room,” she said optimistically.

The center is open to the public, with regular exhibits as well as classes and special events. So you can go see examples of pieces of our human past, from Native American stone tools to adobe bricks and oxen yokes used by 19th century American farmers, or harpoons used by whalers of the same era.

Below are just a few examples of exhibits from a visit I made last weekend.

 


 

 

 

To find out more about this special place, check out their website, http://sandiegoarchaeology.org/ . You can also find them on facebook, https://www.facebook.com/SDArchCenter , and on twitter, https://twitter.com/sdac .

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